Tulane Engineering

My story can be found here.

I and other alumni/donors to Tulane have a meeting with Scott Cowen on Jan. 2nd. I need help exposing Tulane's financial lies about the cost of the engineering programs. I have read your stories about their investments out of state and their legacy of legal corruption. All of this is excellent, but I was wondering if you had any information about the engineering department funding/financing. New Orleans needs engineers now more than ever, and Tulane's actions are another step in their quest to turn their back on the city that they were founded to support. Please reply, I desperately need your help.

David O'Reilly
Email received 12/22/2005

Thank you for your email and the link to your letter in The Times-Picayune.

I recently returned to Shreveport from New Orleans with a near-empty truck after experiencing firsthand that it was not possible to salvage paper files and other desired items from my devastated Lakeview home, which had been flooded to the rafters for many days. The files were pressed together into soggy blocks of papier mache and impregnated with mold. Household furnishings looked as if they had been tumbled about by a giant egg beater.

We spent parts of two days traveling around the city and noting the extensive devastation of many neighborhoods. Clearly, the need for engineers to solve the environmental and structural problems was everywhere to be seen. But as with other societal endeavors, politics and business seem to come first.

I think that Tulane's decision to reduce the Engineering School by 80 percent was made strictly on business considerations. They may simply have balanced the revenue stream from student tuitions against the outlay of salaries and fringe benefits to engineering professors and support staff and reached their conclusion. Despite pious assertions to the contrary, Tulane administrators do not appear to be dedicated to public service, but rather to the preservation of their own well-paid positions.

Many students are coming forward with their concerns. In particular, I refer you to David Murphy, who is network administrator of the Tulane Hullabaloo. Please refer to his letter of December 11, 2005 in the Hullabaloo and to the other articles in that same issue by Kate Schafer and Bob Murrell. There is also the blog, http://savetulaneengineering.org. Note that engineering students are not unique in their concerns. Reprinted below is my exchange of correspondence with Drew Ward, a linguist.

Finally, I do have a suggestion to the dilemma you pose, but it is not something that Scott Cowen would appreciate. Tulane receives substantial funding from public sources, and it has been construed to be a public institution. Thus, I propose that the state takeover Tulane, incorporate its campus into the LSU system, and reconstitute the School of Engineering as a branch of LSU's College of Engineering, which now offers MS and Ph.D. degrees through LSU's Graduate School. It would be interesting to see whether Governor Blanco could muster the political support to take such a step, even though the legal (and moral) basis for a takeover exists.

With every best wish.

Carl Bernofsky

[Note:  See Inside Higher Ed for coverage of Scott Cowen's meeting with advocates seeking to save Tulane's engineering programs (6).]


While Tulane was welcoming its freshman class [7] and implementing another round of employee layoffs [8], thousands of Tulane University students and alumni have been protesting the cuts made to various programs, particularly those in the School of Engineering, which seem inexplicable in the face of the critical need for engineers to rebuild the Katrina-devastated City of New Orleans [9].

Contradictory messages by Tulane President Scott S. Cowen have added fuel to the controversy.  On the one hand Cowen asserted, "It is true that the recovery of New Orleans is critically dependent on effectively addressing engineering challenges; however, Tulane is a national institution and cannot structure its programs primarily around the needs of a single region... ." [10].  On the other hand, Cowen created a graduation requirement for Tulane undergraduate students to participate in the rebuilding of New Orleans [11].

Some feel that engineering was no longer considered "strategic" to Tulane's "long-term interest," and that plans to terminate engineering programs had already been made before Katrina struck the city.  "You don't develop a program to fix a problem for tomorrow.  You develop a program to build a national reputation in the long run," said Lester Lefton, a Tulane provost and vice-president. "Engineering is an area of study we no longer wish to be involved in." [12]

With the problems now confronting New Orleans, engineering programs are precisely what is called for by local business and residental concerns as well as Tulane's charter from the state.  Little wonder that loyal supporters strongly object to Tulane's downsizing of the School of Engineering [13].  More than 3,000 Tulane students, faculty, friends and alumni have signed a petition to "Save Tulane Engineering" [14].  Perhaps Tulane's narrow focus on finances has blinded the university to its other responsibilities.

In the words of an anonymous blogger: "For those of us working from inside of Tulane and not looking at the school from the outside through the PR face of the university that parents are shown, Cowen has been a disaster from day one. His willingness to treat the university as a business, completely disregarding the other aspects of the university as an engine of new knowledge and the free exchange of ideas, has lead to the "Final Solution" opportunistically proposed as "Renewal." This transformation of Tulane from a community into a machine of business has been Cowen's goal since he took over the reins. He is using this disaster to finish off what little was left of the university's character." [15]

Cowen, who sees things differently, may have sensed the potential lying ahead of him when he declared himself the country's spokesperson both for the renewal of the university and the renewal of New Orleans [16].  With the 2006 mayoral race just a few months away, his message, "Out of any great tragedy comes opportunity," [17] appears to have been prophetic as he was approached for the Mayor's job [18].  However, other contenders soon emerged, and Cowen's name was no longer among them [19].  On May 20, 2006 New Orleans voters returned Mayor Ray Nagin to office, thus insuring continuity of existing political relationships [20].

Although Cowen, as president of the university, is responsible for implementing Tulane's current realignment, he shares with the Board of Governors the policy decisions to which so many Tulanians object.  The board seems determined to change the university to better serve its ends, and it appears ready to sacrifice anyone or anything that stands in the way.  Perhaps the "opportunity" to which Cowen alludes includes the opportunity to restructure the university to match the board's business objectives, even at the expense of faculty, staff, and programs.

Cowen expressed his vision of Tulane's role in the recovery of New Orleans in these terms: "As New Orleans goes, so goes Tulane, and vice-versa.  You can't separate the two," he said.  "[T]he higher education community is the shining jewel in the city right now, and we're going to play a major role in bringing the city back." [21]

Mayor Ray Nagin had placed Cowen in charge of "fixing" New Orleans' foundering public school system [22].

As for New Orleans native David O'Reilly, 26, who has been working on his doctorate in civil engineering, he is planning to leave New Orleans and attend Louisiana State University [23].  Other engineering students should give serious consideration to enrolling in the ongoing engineering programs offered by the University of New Orleans (UNO).  Last year, there were nearly 1,500 graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in UNO's College of Engineering [23].

Russell Trahan, dean of engineering at UNO, expects to see an increase in student enrollment because of Tulane's cuts.

"Engineering is not dead in New Orleans because Tulane has eliminated their engineering program," Trahan said.  "We've been graduating and supplying engineers to some of the top firms in the city.  We expect to see some local students who would normally go to Tulane come here.  We are undertaking an effort to enhance some of our programs to make them prominent." [23]

In a move that seems paradoxical considering Tulane's decision to discontinue its engineering programs, Tulane hosted a major engineering forum, "Engineering in a Costal Environment," on June 2, 2006 [24], with the second installment to be held May 11, 2007 [25].

On June 30, 2007 Tulane University quietly closed its Civil Engineering Department [26].

In October, 2008 Tulane announced that third-year physics majors who wish to earn a second degree in civil, mechanical, electrical or environmental engineering will be able to attend Vanderbilt or Johns Hopkins universities for one of those institution's two-year engineering programs [27].  Unfortunately, students who must leave the state in order to obtain an engineering degree are not likely to return to Louisiana to assist in the state's rebuilding.

  1. Kate Schafer, "Tulane announces drastic changes to university," [News] Tulane Hullabaloo, December 11, 2005, http://www.thehullabaloo.com/..., accessed 12/13/05.

  2. David Murphy, "Tulane Fails the Community and Its Students," [Views] Ibid.

  3. Bob Murrell, "Letter to the Editor," [Views] Ibid.

  4. John Pope, "Tulane's president rode out the storm on the floor of the rec center, then went to work: How to reinvent a major university in a post-Katrina world?" The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, December 13, 2005, p. A-1.

  5. David Epstein, "Professors Left Behind by 'Bold Renewal'," Inside Higher Ed, December 12, 2005 (http://insidehighered.com/news/2005/12/12/tulane), accessed 12/26/05.  See also: David Epstein, "Did Katrina Blow Away Layoff Guidelines?," Inside Higher Ed, February 1, 2006 (http://insidehighered.com/news/2006/02/01/tulane), accessed 02/20/06.

  6. David Epstein, "Shop Talk at Tulane," Inside Higher Ed, January 4, 2006 (http://insidehighered.com/news/2006/01/04/tulane), accessed 01/04/06.

  7. Greg Allen, "Tulane University Reopens New Orleans Campus," National Public Radio, Morning Edition, January 13, 2006, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyID=5155879, accessed 01/13/06.  See also: Justin Pope, "Coeds at Tulane have 'Orientation Deja Vu'," The Advocate, Baton Rouge, January 12, 2006, http://www.2theadvocate.com/..., accessed 01/14/06.

  8. John Pope, "Tulane lays off 200 more workers; Faculty members are spared this time," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, January 13, 2006, p. B-1.

  9. Susan Saulny, "Tulane's Engineering Students Strive to Save Their School," The New York Times, January 14, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/..., accessed 01/14/06.

  10. Email communication of January 11, 2006 from Scott S. Cowen to Lucas H. Ehrensing, a Tulane alumnus and supporter (copy received 01/13/06).

  11. Tulane University, "Tulane University — A Plan for Renewal," December 22, 2005, http://renewal.tulane.edu/renewalplan.pdf, accessed 01/12/06.

  12. Jessica Fender, "Program's return to Tulane sought; Students, alumni say engineering needed," The Advocate, Baton Rouge, January 14, 2006, http://www.2theadvocate.com/..., accessed 01/14/06.

  13. Letter [see PDF] of December 21, 2005 from Lucas H. Ehrensing to Scott S. Cowen (copy received 01/16/06).

  14. See: Save Tulane Engineering [petition], http://www.petitiononline.com/savetula/petition.html, accessed 01/20/06.

  15. See: Comment posted by "Anonymous," 9:28 am, December 14, 2005, http://tulanerealitycheck.blogspot.com/2005/12/cowen-article-in-times-picayune.html, accessed 01/22/06.

  16. Scott Cowen, "Tulane Talk," January 6, 2006, http://www2.tulane.edu/tulane_talk/tt_010606.cfm, accessed 01/24/06.

  17. Carol J. Schlueter, "Focused on the Light," Tulane University Magazine - News, Winter, 2006, http://www2.tulane.edu/article_news_details.cfm?ArticleID=6185, accessed 01/24/06.

  18. Bruce Eggler and Frank Donze, "Nagin speech piques hunger; Potential mayoral candidates awaken," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, January 21, 2006, p. B-1.

  19. Frank Donze, "Election date gets N.O. races moving; April 22 tests ahead for mayor, council," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, January 25, 2006, p. A-1.

  20. Gordon Russell, Frank Donze and Michelle Krupa, "IT'S NAGIN; 'It's time for us to be one New Orleans'," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, May 21, 2006, p. A-1.  See also: Michelle Krupa, "Broad appeal aided Nagin in the runoff; Higher turnout, white support gave mayor the edge Saturday," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, May 22, 2006, p. A-1.

  21. Suzanne Johnson, "Renewal: Community Focus and Partnerships," Tulane University Magazine - News, Winter, 2006, http://www2.tulane.edu/article_news_details.cfm?ArticleID=6193, accessed 03/14/07.

  22. Gabrielle Birkner, "Tulane, After the Deluge," The Jewish Week, New York, January 13, 2006, http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=11894, accessed 01/30/06.

  23. April Capochino, "Major Backlash; Tulane engineering cuts face opposition," New Orleans CityBusiness, January 23, 2006, http://www.neworleanscitybusiness.com/viewStory.cfm?recID=14515, accessed 01/30/06.

  24. Michael Strecker, "Engineering the Coast in the Post-Katrina World," Tulane University Magazine - News, May 22, 2006, http://www2.tulane.edu/article_news_details.cfm?ArticleID=6533, accessed 05/23/06.

  25. Michael Strecker, "Hurricanes, Tallest Building Highlight Tulane Engineering Fourm," Tulane University Magazine - News, March 22, 2007, http://www2.tulane.edu/article_news_details.cfm?ArticleID=7209, accessed 03/22/07.

  26. Katherine Kleinpeter Raymond, "Engineers built foundation," The Times-Picayune [Letter], New Orleans, July 5, 2007, Metro, p. 6.

  27. Kathryn Hobgood, "Tulane, Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt Universities Create Engineering Partnership," Tulane University [Press Release], October 14, 2008, http://tulane.edu/news/pr_101408.cfm, accessed 10/14/08.